Office of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to help federal, state, and Tribal law enforcement agencies better respond to disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls. The unanimous passage of Savanna’s Act, authored by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), comes only weeks after the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) released a new report that found 506 cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls nationwide.
Of the 71 urban areas throughout the United States included in the study, Seattle had the highest total number of missing and murdered individuals, as well as the highest total number of murdered individuals. Tacoma was found to have the highest total number of missing individuals.
“We can no longer sweep these statistics under the rug,” Cantwell said. “This problem is more than real – it’s horrifying. And it must be answered.”
In an effort to better respond to reports of disappearances or murders of Native women and girls, Savanna’s Act would increase coordination efforts across federal departments, Tribes, and states. It would also standardize protocols for responding to reports of missing or murdered Native Americans, improve Tribal access to certain federal crime databases, and require annual reports to Congress on ways to improve the collection of data on these crimes.
The legislation is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who disappeared on August 19, 2017, while eight months pregnant. Eight days later, her body was found in the Red River north of Fargo, North Dakota. Police determined her death to be caused by “homicidal violence.”
Native American women and girls have faced devastating levels of violence in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly half of all Native American women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by an intimate partner; one in three will be raped in their lifetime; and on some reservations, women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average.
Addressing the epidemic of violence against Native women has long been a priority for Senator Cantwell. In 2013, as Congress considered the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, she spoke out about the importance of addressing violence against Native women and successfully fought to prevent efforts to remove language from the bill aimed at enhancing domestic violence protections for women in Tribal communities.
At the release of the SIHB report last month, Cantwell called on her colleagues in Congress to take swift action to pass Savanna’s Act.
“We need to get this legislation on the President’s desk before the end of the year,” Cantwell said. “Every community needs these tools.”
Now that the legislation has passed the Senate, it moves on to the House of Representatives for consideration.